TDBH: Banged-up Bengals Luck out in Wild Card loss despite Nugent’s 57-yarder

Posted Jan 3, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - January 4, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS – Just getting to their fourth straight postseason in the Green-Dalton Era is one of their more underrated moments in franchise history, but today’s 26-10 loss to the torrid Andrew Luck and his Colts still makes it hurt for a Bengals team bitter with its fourth straight loss in an AFC Wild Card Game. The 10-5-1 Bengals secure a Wild Card and win at least 10 games for the third straight season despite losing starting wide receiver Marvin Jones (foot) in the preseason, tight end Tyler Eifert (forearm) on the ninth snap of the season, Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict in midseason (knee) and flagship franchise player A.J. Green (toe, shoulder) for five games he doesn’t have a catch. Plus they make it back for head coach Marvin Lewis’ sixth postseason even though he has to replace his offensive and defensive coordinators. They get here on the strength of defense, a resourceful, smart year from quarterback Andy Dalton, and a 1,000-yard season from rookie running back Jeremy Hill. But as the team buses are rolling west down I-74 yesterday, Green is announced out with a concussion stemming from a Mike Mitchell head shot in last week’s loss in the AFC North title game in Pittsburgh and the other tight end, Jermaine Gresham, is also out, it’s in the cards.   If you saw the Bengals’ 27-0 loss here back on Oct. 19, you saw what transpires in today’s second half as Hill finishes with just 47 yards on 13 carries. Luck, who led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes, is immense, spreading the ball to nine receivers ranging from former Bengals running back Boom Herron to Peyton Manning holdover Reggie Wayne for 376 yards while Dalton’s longest play is a 26-yard pass to transplanted running back Rex Burkhead playing wide receiver.

The Bengals kept saying all week they needed someone to make a play. It just so happens to be kicker Mike Nugent. And when he slides his 57-yard field goal off the left upright with 15 seconds left in the first half to cut the Colts’ lead to 13-10, the Bengals sideline explodes and you could swear the karma of the playoff drought is ebbing away. It is even set up by a fumble from old friend Herron at the Bengals 41 with 1:49 left in the half on a play forced by rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard and recovered by safety Reggie Nelson. “It was like we stole three points. Especially with the turnover,” Nugent says. “I’ve been around these guys for a long time. It was good to see the guys coming on to the field after a situation like that.” Nugent calls it the biggest kick of his 10 NFL seasons, with the 54-yarder at the gun in Detroit last season pretty close. It is certainly the biggest field goal of his five Bengals seasons, a franchise record that won’t be a record because he does it in the postseason. He already shares the record of 55 with Chris Bahr. He also runs his streak to 16 of 17 since his miss from 36 at the overtime gun in the 37-37 tie with Carolina. It’s been tough for Nugent after losing his father suddenly only last month. “I’m so proud of him. Just the character he’s shown to this football team,” says left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “The character on this team is tremendous.” Nugent tries to send Lewis a message with body language. Confident he can make the kick indoors, he walks on the field even before Lewis waves him in. But Nugent does that all the time because he hates to be rushed and wants to have plenty of time before he kicks. “I was really hitting the ball in warmups well,” Nugent says. “It was going nice through the air…No matter the call, even if it’s a 60-yarder; at least I’m walking out there ready to go.”

Whitworth, the de facto offensive captain suffering his fifth straight post-season loss, continues to stand by his locker room, taking all questions, proudly talking about a team that gutted it up and just got cleaned out at the end. “I just know as an offense in the playoff and big games, you have to have the huge plays to win and whether that is throwing it or catching it or running it, it’s going to have to happen,” Whitworth says. “You see it every week. You see the top guys that take over games and lead their team to a victory.” Hill, the NFL’s leading rusher for the past seven weeks, carries just four times for eight yards in the last three quarters as the Colts inexorably make the running game irrelevant by expanding the lead with chunk plays from Luck. “It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Whitworth says. “When you don’t have any tight ends and you have to use linemen, now you make it obvious (it’s a run play) and they can roll to you even more because they’re not really worried about (guard Mike) Pollak and (tackle Marshall) Newhouse catching passes. You’re trying to knock them off and play high school football a little bit … If you’re playing defense and you’re playing against an offense that just lost its top weapons before the game, we’re just fighting our tails off as an offensive line.”

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